Runnin' (Part 3) - Barefoot Running


Today I'll continue my series on running. (You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.) As I said in my previous post, this post will be on "barefoot running".

On my first post I made a comment how "shin splints are now just a distant memory." Someone commented on that saying they have had severe shin splints and wanted to know what was my secret. I'm going to share with you what I told her today (actually, this will post be a little more in depth that what I said to her).

First I'll give you some background. When I started running (now 7 weeks ago), I was running on the treadmill in some cheapo Addidas tennis shoes. At first things were fine. But after the 1st week I started noticing pain in my shins. But it wasn't bad, so I kept on doing what I was doing. But then as I began week 2, with each run my shin splints were getting worse. Finally by the time I completed run 3 of week 2, it was bad enough that I knew I had to fix this problem or I would end up having to stop because the pain would become too unbearable.

So I did what any red blooded American would do. I looked for my answer on Google. I came across this youtube video. It's a guy named Yuri, who is now a personal trainer in Canada, but used to play professional soccer in Europe. Anyways, he listed several tips for preventing shin splints. Some of the tips were stretches and exercises one should do. But he also talked about form. He explained how a lot of people run by landing on their heel first (aka a heel strike), where as it's better to land on the ball of your foot and toes first. But because of the way most shoes are designed, they're not very flexible, and so it's just more natural for the runner to to heel strike. But have you ever run barefoot on the beach or on grass? I know for me my stride naturally switches to landing on the ball and toes of my foot. Anyways, he said with each step we take while we run, we can create a force that is about 3 to 4 times our weight. So we're putting a force that is 3 to 4 times our weight on each leg, over and over and over.

Think of it this way. When you heel strike, there's no shock absorption taking place. So all that force goes up your leg and into your back. But when you land ball and toes first, shock absorption does take place, and so by the time your heel touches down, the force that goes up through your body isn't as powerful.

Here are 2 interesting videos that show the differences of impact. The first video is of someone heel striking, the 2nd is of someone landing on ball and toes first (If you are reading this in a reader or via email, you may not see the videos, so you will need to click the link at the beginning and read this post on our blog):

Notice how in the first video when the runner's heel lands that smooth curve is broken, where as in the 2nd video the curve remains smooth the whole time?

Anyways, I may not have done a good job of explaining this, but it definitely makes sense to me. And I've been running this way for the last 4 weeks now and haven't had any problems. I've done a lot of reading on barefoot running recently, and I came across plenty of people saying they still have problems even after switching to barefoot running. So obviously it may not work for everyone, but it has for me.

Now you may be wondering, do barefoot runners literally run barefoot down the street? Yes, there are people out there who literally run barefoot. Am I one of them? No. At the moment I run on the treadmill in socks. And when the day comes I take to the streets, I hope to have a pair of Vibram Fivefingers Bikila LS on my feet (like the ones you see at the beginning of this post).

The popularity of barefoot running has grown over the last 15 to 20 years. Smaller companies like Vibram initially were the ones who were makings shoes that are extremely flexible, and feel like you are barefoot. There's just a thin layer on the bottom to protect you from stepping on glass or something. And of course now that it's more popular, the big boys like Nike and Addidas are getting in on the action and releasing barefoot or "minmalist" shoes too.

Now, for those of you who are interested in this, if you do decide to try barefoot running, understand you need to EASE INTO IT!!!!! When you start landing on ball and toes first, you are going to begin working muscles that you haven't worked before. And you are going to be SORE! Some of the stuff I've read said even if you are an experienced runner who runs 20 miles a day, when you switch you should initially run SLOWLY and for 10 minutes MAX. If you jump in hardcore since you'll begin working muscles you've never worked before, you'll probably end up pulling something and hurting yourself. Also, people recommend starting on grass or a soft surface (a rubber track for example) since your feet have probably been conditioned to being in shoes. Personally I skipped that only because I don't wear shoes all that often (I'm a barefoot or rainbows kind of person), so I was pretty confident my feet were already tough and would be fine on a treadmill. But, if in doubt, start on a soft surface...better to be safe than sorry.

Anyways, I hope you've enjoyed this little series on running. At the moment I don't think I have anything else to add. So for now I think this series will be done. God bless!

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